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OSHA’s guardrail requirements are fairly simple.

  • Top rail must be 42” plus or minus three inches from the working surface
  • Top rail must be capable of withstanding at least 200 pounds in an outward or downward direction without bending lower than 39”
  • Mid rail must at least 21” high
  • Mid rail must withstand 150 pounds

There are other specifics, but those are the major points when it comes to guardrails and OSHA. Notice that there is no mention of vertical posts being required at any specific distance. I called OSHA to see if this were perhaps an oversight or simply something I was unable to find in their standards. I was told that as long as it fits the standards in the link below, specifically not deflecting lower than 39” when 200 pounds is applied, then the vertical posts can be ten feet apart or even further.

However, if you’re in a state with a state run OSHA program like California, don’t order that ten foot guardrail just yet. OSHA requires that state agencies be at least as strict as OSHA, but they are allowed to be stricter or more specific. In the case of Cal/OSHA, the rules are as follows:

  • Top rails must be able to withstand a 200 pound load in any direction
  • Top rail must be 42"–45" high from floor to top of rail
  • Posts must not exceed 8 foot centers
  • Must have a mid-rail. The mid-rail must be at least 1" x 6"
  • The top rail and posts must be at least 2" x 4" if made of wood, at least 1.5” thick if metal pipe, and if made of structural steel, must be at least 2” x 2” angle iron

As you can see, these standards are much more specific. Not only do you need vertical posts at least every eight feet, but those posts must be a specific thickness depending on the material. In other words, a worksite that might be entirely OSHA compliant in Idaho, might result in violations in California. This is, of course just one example of differences between OSHA and a state run OSHA.